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Business trends

Japanese supermarket Summit to close for 3 days at New Year's

Grocery wants staff to recuperate after the industry's exhausting 2020

A Summit employee shows a customer how to use a self-checkout terminal. (Photo courtesy of Summit)

TOKYO -- Japanese supermarket chain Summit will close all stores for the first three days of 2021, letting employees rest longer than usual after a grueling year.

As people avoid eating out due to the coronavirus pandemic, more households are cooking at home, keeping supermarkets and their employees busy filling shelves. The industry's same-store sales in August rose 6.7% on the year, according to the Japan Supermarkets Association.

Summit, a subsidiary of trading house Sumitomo Corp., wants to give staff an extra day off to rest and recuperate, to prepare for the coming year. The chain usually closes on Jan. 1 and 2.

The first three days of January are the traditional holiday in Japan, and Summit will shut during the entire period for the first time since 1988. Other supermarkets are expected to follow suit.

Summit plans to notify customers with posters in the stores, encouraging more leisurely shopping to begin the year.

After a race to reduce days off, competing to keep doors open throughout the year to expand sales, supermarkets are now moving in the opposite direction. Major grocery chain Life Corp. will add one day off at the beginning of 2021, closing on Jan. 1 and 2. The company experimented with this schedule at select stores in 2020, but now will expand it to all outlets.

Tokyo-area chains Yaoko and Inageya began closing on Jan. 1 and 2 in 2019.

To cater to the rising demand, supermarkets have been hiring aggressively, especially by scooping up individuals who worked in bars and restaurants that have shut down.

But with new staff needing to learn skills such as cash register operation, food packaging, cooking and item display, it usually takes time to count on these newcomers. The industry also faces the challenge of retaining staff.

Summit hopes that creating a more comfortable workplace will help in recruiting and retention.

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